The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 42

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The Egyptian's curved sword clanged against Sir Robert's helm, setting his head ringing. In return, the knight's broadsword came about in a sweeping arc, and the Egyptian's horse rode on with the rider's headless body.

Behind him, Sir Robert heard further cries of "St. George and England!"

The Hospitallers, taking heart at the charge, were going in! Behind them came the Count of Champagne, the Earl of Leister, and the Bishop of Beauvais, who carried a great warhammer in order that he might not break Church Law by shedding blood.

Sir Robert's own sword rose and fell, cutting and hacking at the enemy. He himself felt a dreamlike detachment, as though he were watching the battle rather than partic.i.p.ating in it.

But he could see that the Moslems were falling back before the Christian onslaught.



And then, quite suddenly, there seemed to be no foeman to swing at. Breathing heavily, Sir Robert sheathed his broadsword.

Beside him, Sir Gaeton did the same, saying: "It will be a few minutes before they can regroup, sir knight. We may have routed them completely."

"Aye. But King Richard will not approve of my breaking ranks and disobeying orders. I may win the battle and lose my head in the end."

"This is no time to worry about the future," said the Gascon. "Rest for a moment and relax, that you may be the stronger later. Here--have an Old Kings."

He had a pack of cigarettes in his gauntleted hand, which he profferred to Sir Robert. There were three cigarettes protruding from it, one slightly farther than the others. Sir Robert's hand reached out and took that one.

"Thanks. When the going gets rough, I really enjoy an Old Kings."

He put one end of the cigarette in his mouth and lit the other from the lighter in Sir Gaeton's hand.

"Yes, sir," said Sir Gaeton, after lighting his own cigarette, "Old Kings are the greatest. They give a man real, deep-down smoking pleasure."

"There's no doubt about it, Old Kings are a man's cigarette." Sir Robert could feel the soothing smoke in his lungs as he inhaled deeply. "That's great. When I want a cigarette, I don't want just any cigarette."

"Nor I," agreed the Gascon. "Old Kings is the only real cigarette when you're doing a real man's work."

"That's for sure." Sir Robert watched a smoke ring expand in the air.

There was a sudden clash of arms off to their left. Sir Robert dropped his cigarette to the ground. "The trouble is that doing a real he-man's work doesn't always allow you to enjoy the fine, rich tobaccos of Old Kings right down to the very end."

"No, but you can always light another later," said the Gascon knight.

King Richard, on seeing his army moving suddenly toward the hara.s.sed rear, had realized the danger and had charged through the Hospitallers to get into the thick of the fray. Now the Turks were charging down from the hills, hitting--not the flank as he had expected, but the rear! Saladin had expected him to hold fast!

Sir Robert and Sir Gaeton spurred their chargers toward the flapping banner of England.

The fierce warrior-king of England, his mighty sword in hand, was cutting down Turks as though they were grain-stalks, but still the Saracen horde pressed on. More and more of the terrible Turks came boiling down out of the hills, their glittering scimitars swinging.

Sir Robert lost all track of time. There was nothing to do but keep his own great broadsword moving, swinging like some gigantic metronome as he hacked down the Moslem foes.

And then, suddenly, he found himself surrounded by the Saracens! He was isolated and alone, cut off from the rest of the Christian forces! He glanced quickly around as he slashed another Saracen from pate to breastbone. Where was Sir Gaeton? Where were the others? Where was the red-and-gold banner of Richard?

He caught a glimpse of the fluttering banner far to the rear and started to fall back.

And then he saw another knight nearby, a huge man who swung his sparkling blade with power and force. On his steel helm gleamed a golden coronet! Richard!

And the great king, in spite of his prowess was outnumbered heavily and would, within seconds, be cut down by the Saracen horde!

Without hesitation, Sir Robert plunged his horse toward the surrounded monarch, his great blade cutting a path before him.

He saw Richard go down, falling from the saddle of his charger, but by that time his own sword was cutting into the screaming Saracens and they had no time to attempt any further mischief to the King. They had their hands full with Sir Robert de Bouain.

He did not know how long he fought there, holding his charger motionless over the inert body of the fallen king, hewing down the screaming enemy, but presently he heard the familiar cry of "For St. George and for England" behind him. The Norman and English troops were charging in, bringing with them the banner of England!

And then Richard was on his feet, cleaving the air about him with his own broadsword. Its bright edge, besmeared with Saracen blood, was biting viciously into the foe.

The Turks began to fall back. Within seconds, the Christian knights were boiling around the embattled pair, forcing the Turks into retreat. And for the second time, Sir Robert found himself with no one to fight.

And then a voice was saying: "You have done well this day, sir knight. Richard Plantagenet will not forget."

Sir Robert turned in his saddle to face the smiling king.

"My lord king, be a.s.sured that I would never forget my loyalty to my sovereign and liege lord. My sword and my life are yours whenever you call."

King Richard's gauntleted hand grasped his own. "If it please G.o.d, I shall never ask your life. An earldom awaits you when we return to England, sir knight."

And then the king mounted his horse and was running full gallop after the retreating Saracens.

Robert took off his helmet.

He blinked for a second to adjust his eyes to the relative dimness of the studio. After the brightness of the desert that the televicarion helmet had projected into his eyes, the studio seemed strangely cavelike.

"How'd you like it, Bob?" asked one of the two producers of the show.

Robert Bowen nodded briskly and patted the televike helmet. "It was O.K.," he said. "Good show. A little talky at the beginning, and it needs a better fade-out, but the action scenes were fine. The sponsor ought to like it--for a while, at least."

"What do you mean, 'for a while'?"

Robert Bowen sighed. "If this thing goes on the air the way it is, he'll lose sales."

"Why? Commercial not good enough?"

"Too good! Man, I've smoked Old Kings, and, believe me, the real thing never tasted as good as that cigarette did in the commercial!"

Contents

THE BLUFF OF THE HAWK.

By Anthony Gilmore

Had not old John Sewell, the historian, recognized Hawk Ca.r.s.e for what he was--a creator of new s.p.a.ce-frontiers, pioneer of vast territories for commerce, molder of history through his long feud with the powerful Eurasian scientist, Ku Sui--the adventurer would doubtless have pa.s.sed into oblivion like other long-forgotten s.p.a.cemen. We have Sewell's industry to thank for our basic knowledge of Ca.r.s.e. His "s.p.a.ce-Frontiers of the Last Century" is a thorough work and the accepted standard, but even it had of necessity to be compressed, and many meaty episodes of the Hawk's life go almost unmentioned. For instance, Sewell gives a rough synopsis of "The Affair of the Brains," but dismisses its aftermath entirely, in the following fas.h.i.+on (Vol. II, pp. 25O-251): "... there was only one way out: to smash the great dome covering one end of the asteroid and so release the life-sustaining air inside. Captain Ca.r.s.e achieved this by sending the s.p.a.ce-s.h.i.+p Scorpion cras.h.i.+ng through the dome unmanned, and he, Friday and Eliot Leithgow were caught up in the out-rus.h.i.+ng flood of air and catapulted into s.p.a.ce, free of the dome and Dr. Ku Sui. Clad as they were in the latter's self-propulsive s.p.a.ce-suits, they were quite capable of reaching Jupiter's Satellite III, only some thirty thousand miles away.

"Then speeding through s.p.a.ce, Captain Ca.r.s.e discovered why he had never been able to find the asteroid-stronghold. He could not see it! Dr. Ku Sui had protected his lair by making it invisible! But Ca.r.s.e was at least confident that by breaking the dome he had destroyed all life within in, including the coordinated brains.

"So ended The Affair of the Brains.[1]

"The three comrades reached Satellite III safely, where, after a few minor adventures, Captain Ca.r.s.e...."

[Footnote 1: See the March, 1932, Issue of Astounding Stories.]

Sewell's ruthless surgery is most evident in that last paragraph. Of course his telescoping of the events was due to limited s.p.a.ce; but he did wish to draw a full-length, character-revealing portrait of Hawk Ca.r.s.e, and with "... reached Satellite III safely, where, after a few minor adventures, Captain Ca.r.s.e ..." learned old John Sewell slid over one of his greatest opportunities.

The resourcefulness of Hawk Ca.r.s.e! In these "few minor adventures" he had but one weapon with which to joust against overwhelming odds on an apparently hopeless quest. This weapon was a s.p.a.ce-suit--nothing more--yet so brilliantly and daringly did he wield its unique advantages that he penetrated seemingly impregnable barriers and achieved alone what another man would have required the ray-batteries of a s.p.a.ce-fleet to do.

But here is the story, heard first from Friday's lips and told and re-told down through the years on the lonely ranches of the outlying planets, of that one dark, savage night on Satellite II and of the indomitable man who winged his lone way through it. Hawk Ca.r.s.e! Old adventurer! Rise from your unknown star-girdled grave and live again!

Thirty thousand miles was the gap between Dr. Ku Sui's asteroid and Satellite III, the nearest haven. Thirty thousand miles in a s.p.a.ce-s.h.i.+p is about the time of a peaceful cigarro. Thirty thousand miles in a cramped awkward s.p.a.ce-suit grow into a nightmare journey, an eternity of suffering, and they will kill a good number of those who traverse them so.

For, take away the metal bulkheads and walls, soft lights and warmth of a s.p.a.ce-liner, get out in a small cramped s.p.a.ce-suit, and s.p.a.ce loses its mask of harmlessness and stands revealed as the bleak, unfeeling torturer it is. There is the loneliness, the sense of timelessness, the sensation of falling, and above all there is the "weightless" feeling from pressure-changes in man's blood-stream--changes sickening in effect and soon resulting in delirium. Nothing definite; no gravity; no "bottom," no "top"; merely a vacuum, comprehended by the human mind through an all-enveloping nausea, and seen in confused spectral labyrinths as the whole cold panorama of icy stars staggers and swirls and the universe goes mad. Such a trip was enough to churn the resistance of the hardiest traveler, but for Hawk Ca.r.s.e, Friday and Eliot Leithgow there was more. On Ku Sui's asteroid they had gone through hours of mental and physical tension without break or relaxation, and they were sleep-starved and food-starved and their brains f.a.gged and dull. What would have been a strong reaction on land hit them, in s.p.a.ce, with tripled force.

So Friday--our ultimate authority--remembered little of the transit. He had bad short periods of wakefulness, when the recurring agony of his body woke and racked him afresh, and only during these did he see the other two grotesque figures, sometimes widely separated, sometimes close, dazzlingly half-lit by Jupiter's light. But he was conscious that one of the three was keeping them more or less together, though only later did he know that this one was Ca.r.s.e--Ca.r.s.e, who hardly slept, who drove off unconsciousness and fought through nausea to keep at his task of shepherding, failing which they would have drifted miles apart and become hopelessly separated. He was able to maintain them in a fairly compact group by his discovery of a short metal direction rod on the breast of the suit, which gave horizontal movement in the direction it was pointed when its b.u.t.ton was pressed.

But though it seemed endless, the journey was not; Satellite III grew and grew. Its pale circle spread outward; dark blurs took definition; a spot of blue winked forth--the Great Briney Lake. The globe at last became concave, then, after they entered its atmosphere, convex. This last stretch was the most grueling.

Friday remembered it in vivid flashes. Time after time he dropped into confused sleep, each time to be awakened by Ca.r.s.e jarring into him, shouting at him through the suits' small radio sets, keeping him--and Leithgow--attentive to the job of decelerating. The man's efforts must have been terrific, taxing all his enormous driving power, for he at that time was without doubt more exhausted than they. But he succeeded, and he was a haggard-faced, feverish sh.e.l.l of himself when at last he had them in a dangling drunken halt in the air a hundred feet from the surface.

Primal savagery lay stretched out below, and there seemed to be no safe spot whereon to land. The foul, deep swamp that reached for miles on every side, the towering trees that sprouted their spiny trunks and limbs from it, the interlaced razor-edged vines and creeper-growths--all was a stirring welter of tropic life, life varied and voracious and untamed. From the tiny poisonous bansi insects layers deep on the nearest tree to the monster gantor that crouched in a clump of weeds, gently sawing his fangs back and forth, all the creatures of this world were against man.

Ca.r.s.e scanned the scene wearily. They had to land; had to sleep under normal conditions, and eat and drink, before they could go further. But where? Where was haven? He snapped out the direction rod, moved away a short distance, and then glimpsed, below and to the left, a small peninsula of firm soil which seemed safe and uninhabited. And there was a pool of fairly clear water before it, containing nothing but an old uprooted stump. He came back to the others, shook them, and led them down to the place he had discovered.

They landed with a thump which seemed to shake all life from two of them. Friday and Eliot Leithgow collapsed into inert heaps, asleep immediately. Ca.r.s.e extracted a ray-gun from the belt of Leithgow's suit and prepared to stand watch. But that was too much. He over-estimated his capacity. He had come through thirty hours of h.e.l.lish sleep-denied delirium, and he could not stave sleep off any longer. He staggered and went down, and his eyelids were glued in sleep when his body hit the ground.

But mechanically, with an instinct that sleep could not deny, his left hand kept clasped around the b.u.t.t of the ray-gun....

Satellite III's day has an average of seven hours' duration, her night of six. It was perhaps the last hour of daylight when the three metal and fabric-clad figures lying outsprawled on the little thumb-shaped piece of soil had landed. Now quickly the huge sweeping rim of Jupiter plunged down, and night fell over the land.

Fierce darkness. Jungle and swamp awoke with their scale of savage life. Swift swooping shapes winged out from the trees, prey-hungry eyes gleaming green. And from the swamps came bellowings and stirrings from monster mud-encrusted bodies, awakening to their nocturnal quest for food. The night reechoed with the harsh cacophony of their cries.

With lumbering caution, its smooth k.n.o.b head waving on a long reptilian neck, its heavy armored tail dragging behind its body's folds of flesh, a giant night-thing came stumping out of a copse of jungle growth--a buru. Its eyes were watchful, but centered mainly on the pool of water to one side of the peninsula of firm soil. Its drinking water was there. With several pauses, it went right out on the spit, and a flat-bottomed foot twice the size of an elephant's missed one of the sleeping forms by inches. But the buru cared not for them. It was not a flesh-eater. Its undulating neck stretched far out; its head dipped; water was lapped up--until it caught sight of the uprooted giant stump lying pitched in the pool. The beast drank but little after that, and retreated as cautiously as it had come.

Five or six of its fellows of the swamps followed at intervals to the water, grotesque hulking shapes, odorous and slimy with mud. All drank from the same spot; all ignored, save for a tentative rooting snuffle, the unconscious figures lying puny beneath them. But all noticed the twisted roots of the stump, sticking out in a score of directions, and avoided them.

And then there came smaller, more cautious animals who did not drink from the favored spot, who surveyed it, sniffed, hesitated, and finally retreated. There was a good reason for this caution.

For with the falling of night the stump had been at least thirty feet out in the water; now it was not ten feet from the side of the spit, and not twelve feet from the nearest sleeping figure. The suits that clad the three figures were sealed, the face-plates closed, so there was probably--after their trip through the void--no man smell to attract the giants of swamp and trees. But those three figures had moved. That was lure enough for one monster.

When the first ruddy arrows of Jupiter's light laced through the jungle's highest foliage, the twisted, gnarled stump was settled on the peninsula's rim, half out of the water. And when day burst, when Jupiter's flaming arch pushed over into view, the long seeming-roots eeled forward in sinuous reptilian life.

In one second Hawk Ca.r.s.e was s.n.a.t.c.hed from sleep into the turmoil of a fight for life.

Something hard and enormously powerful was wrapping his waist with a vise-like grip that threatened to cut him in two. He felt a leg go up and crumple back, almost breaking under the force of a las.h.i.+ng blow. He was squeezed in, caged, compressed, by a score of tough, encircling tentacles, and his whole body was drawn toward a wide, flexible, black-lipped mouth yawning in the center of the monster he had thought a stump. Moving with loathsome life, its sinewy root-tentacles sucking him whole into the maw, the thing hunched itself back to the water.

The water frothed around Ca.r.s.e. He had been too dazed to resist; he had not known what had gripped him in his unconsciousness and weakness. But he remembered his ray-gun.

The lips of the hideous mouth were pressing close. Both were now under the surface. Ca.r.s.e's suit was still tight and he could breathe even while totally submerged in the water. He strained his left arm against the tentacle that looped it, worked the ray-gun still clasped in his hand in line with the thing's monstrous carca.s.s, and at once, gasping and sick, pulled the trigger clear back.

The orange stream sizzled as it cleared a path through the water and bit true into the gaping mouth. There sounded a curious, subterranean sob; beady eyes on each side of the mouth bulged; the woodish body quivered in agony. Its tentacles slackened, and, half fainting, the Hawk wrenched free. He staggered up onto the land, streams of water running off the suit, and toppled over; and from there he saw the thing drag its writhing shuddering shape farther out from the sh.o.r.e. When perhaps sixty feet away it again subsided into a "harmless" uprooted old stump....

Ca.r.s.e lay resting and collecting himself for a quarter of an hour, while Leithgow and Friday slept on, unconscious of what had happened; then he got to his feet, opened their face-plates and bathed Leithgow's pale brow with water. The scientist awoke with the quickness of old men, but Friday stirred and stretched and blinked and sat up at last, yawning.

The Hawk answered their questions about his wet suit with a brief explanation of the fight, then got down to business.

"There's water here, but we must have food," he said. "Friday, you go back and find fruit; some isuan weed, too, if it's growing nearby. A chew of it will stimulate us. Keep your ray-gun ready. I wouldn't be here if I'd not had mine."

The isuan was a big help. In its prepared form it is degrading, mind-destroying, but in natural state it gives a powerful and comparatively harmless stimulation. Chewing on the leaves that the Negro brought back, they made strength and renewed vitality for their bodies, and came, for the first time since they had started their flight through s.p.a.ce, to a near-normal state. Meaty, yellow globules of pear-like fruit, followed by prudent drafts of water, aided also. Friday's long-absent grin returned as he bit into the juicy fruit, and he announced through a mouthful: "Well, things're lookin' sunny again! We've got food and water inside us; we can reach Master Leithgow's laboratory in these here suits; an' to top it all we've finished high an' mighty Ku Sui. He's dead at last! Boy, it sure feels good to know it!"

Eliot Leithgow was lying back, breathing deeply of the fresh morning air. His lined, worn face and body were relaxed. "Yes," he murmured, "it is good to know that Dr. Ku is now just a thing of the past. He and his coordinated brains." He glanced aside at the Hawk, sitting silent and still, and stroking, as always when in meditation, the bangs of flaxen hair which obscured his forehead. "Why so serious, Ca.r.s.e?" he asked.

The adventurer's gray eyes were cold and sober. No relaxation showed in them. His hand paused in its slow smoothing movement and he spoke.

"Why I overlooked it before," he said quietly, almost as if to himself, "I don't know. Probably because I was too tired, and too busy, and too sick to think. But now I see."

"What?" Leithgow sat up straight.

"Eliot," said the Hawk clearly, "doesn't it seem strange to you that Ku Sui's asteroid continued to be invisible after we had smashed through its dome?"

"What do you mean?"

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 42

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